By Kelli Gile
Walnut– A new robotics club at Suzanne Middle School dominated a First Lego League (FLL) competition aimed at finding solutions to global environmental issues.
Two teams of sixth grade programmers vied in separate divisions while focusing on this year’s FLL theme – Trash Trek. Students were challenged to explore the world of trash, from collection, to sorting, to smart production, and reuse, and then invent a solution to help our trash problem.
The Suzanne teams won coveted championship awards during the recent 2016 California FLL Cup challenge at Legoland in Carlsbad on January 24. They also took numerous 1st place awards at tournaments throughout Los Angeles.
“We like having fun together and encouraging people to get involved in STEM education,” said Kaden Salvador about his enthusiasm for robotics. “We want to show them how cool it is!”
Every Tuesday and Thursday, the 14 students meet after school to build and program the little bots using Lego Mindstorm EV3 kits and refine their presentations.
Robotics encompasses all aspects of STEM education, according to teacher advisor Vicky Silcock. “Not only must students learn to engineer and program a robot that will accomplish the task before them, but they also need to learn to do research and use teamwork to explain real world applications.”
Wolf Corps team members designed an automatic can crusher called the “BEATit” that compacts, counts the collected cans, and calculates a payout.
“We came up with the idea after our school held a pop top drive,” explained Gordon Lau. “This is the first can crusher designed for households.”
The robot bin opens using an ultrasonic sensor and motor, while two additional motors crush the can and drop it into a bottom bin. Students believe their innovative product will encourage families to earn extra money from recycling (five cents a can), reduce landfill size, and save energy consumption.
“We work together like a pack of wolves!” said Wolf Corp member Kawin Watkins.
The Wolf Corp team was invited to represent the Los Angeles Region at the Razorback Invitational Tournament after their 1st place FLL performance.
The RoboHeroes team built a robot that completes recycling missions during a building demolition and salvage challenge. During a tabletop demonstration, students expertly explained each step before sending their robot through the course brimming with trash reduction and recycling components – landfill, methane energy, re-use of toy packaging, and trash sorting.
The team programmed their sturdy robot to move forward, backward, turn, pick up and drop off pieces, and then return to base.
“It was fun finding a design for our robot,” said Marcus Robles. “We started from scratch to make something new!”
“There’s a lot of trial and error in programming,” added Matthew Carreon, age 12. “We must have run the program over 100 times.”
Students must demonstrate how well they practice the FLL Core Values of teamwork and friendly competition during matches. Along with participating in robotics competitions, the teams share their environmental plans with several community groups and local businesses.
The group of students began participating in robotics competitions during the 4th grade at Collegewood Elementary with Wolf Corp parent coaches Scott and Leh Watkins.
“I think the biggest benefits for students is collaborating and working as a team,” said coach Scott Watkins.
“The kids come up with a solution for real world programs. This year is trash reduction and recycling,” said RoboHeroes parent coach Jonathan Fong.
“We all hope to continue through middle school and into high school,” Watkins added.